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Recordings

Gwyneth Jones - In Concert
11 Dec 2005

Gwyneth Jones - In Concert

Sorry my friends, but since I retired as a TV-reporter I forgot a lot of technical know-how, which to be fair never interested me very much.

Gwyneth Jones - In Concert

Gwyneth Jones, Orchestre Symphonic de Québec, Simon Streatfeild (cond.)

VAI DVD 4344

 

But while I wrote, produced and presented a weekly historical show, I always got the complaints of my directors when I wanted them to use footage from the late seventies and the eighties that recorded events for archival purposes. They sighed that even B/W kinescope was better than the colour video of those ten years. When one looked at it in the nineties the picture was always somewhat murky and the colours already partly whitewashed. Therefore I don’t think buyers of this DVD should lay their complaints with VAI for a less than perfect picture. They probably made the best of it and it’s not that this issue is not acceptable; only that we are now used to perfect razor sharpness. On the other hand the sound is full and fine; no mean feat if one has ever had the experience of working in a big church with the sound reverberating from all kind of unsuspected corners.

At the time of the recording Dame Gwyneth was 52 years of age with a career of 26 years behind her. She was still known to be an exciting performer who didn’t care too much for musical accuracy as the voice could be somewhat wild after many years of the most strenuous roles in the repertoire. In those years I heard her several times at her motherhouse, the ROH Covent Garden, where she indeed made a fine impression and where she had an extraordinary group of diehard fans (not only for musical reasons; “contrary to some aloof singers, she is so chatty” one of them told me). Jones starts her recital with the well-known Tannhäuser and immediately one is struck by two features: a big wobble (not a vibrato) in the voice and a high register that goes badly flat from high B on. The first problem gradually declines as the voice warms up (and one gets a little bit used to it too) but the second one is by that time a fixed feature of the voice and Dame Gwyneth simply takes it as a fact of life and doesn’t let that limitation be an obstacle in her choice of repertoire.

Next she sails on to the Lady’s entrance, one of the great voice-wreckers with its leaps, jagged rhythms and a climbing sequence that dwarfs almost all other soprano solos. But by that time the voice is far more steadfast and as there are no long legato phrases Jones comes through with flying colours. She doesn’t stop with the aria itself but adds the cabaletta as well. By the time she deals with “Pace, pace, mio Dio” the voice is pure and strong though in this piece it becomes clear she no longer has a real pianissimo or even mezza-voce: mezza-forte is the most she can throttle the engine down into. Tosca is sung rather indifferently but she really comes into her own in “In questa reggia.” There she gives her all and as the aria includes the part of Calaf as well (played by the orchestra alone) she has often time for a good deep breath so that she gushes out a new phrase with house rattling amplitude. The church comes down.

Singers are often in love with a piece of music that suits their voices not at all. After an aria where she wins all hearts with a show of pure brutal strength she wants her programme to end with one that demands all kinds of qualities she no longer has: a fine lovingly spun out legato and a sound that varies between whisper and a short forte. Jones tries to tune the voice down for Lehár’s Vilja-Lied but doesn’t succeed. When she tries there are some sharp overtones and there is no sensuousness in the voice at all. But as always she gives full value: no shortened version most singers use in recital but the two full stanzas.

Her encore is the hit of that moment: Memory from Cats and one is surprised to hear her struggle with the piece. She often simply and not very well says the words as the tessitura of the song lies to low for her and she is not able to reach the high notes if she transposes it upwards. All in all, not an absolute winner but still an interesting DVD that has the great advantage of being a real concert, including warts and all but — o happiness — no dubbing.

Jan Neckers

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